- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2011

Five months after his drug conspiracy conviction was reversed, former D.C. nightclub owner Antoine Jones remains in prison as the Justice Department decides whether to ask the Supreme Court to review his case.

The central question that resulted in Jones‘ successful appeal, which is being closely watched by civil liberties groups, is whether the government needs a warrant to use GPS technology to tail a suspect.

Jones‘ lawyer on appeal, Steve Leckar, argued that his client’s right to a reasonable expectation of privacy was violated when federal agents attached a GPS device to his vehicle without getting a warrant. Jones was sentenced to life in prison.

A federal appeals panel agreed with Mr. Leckar in an August decision, which was later backed in a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Justice Department has until Feb. 17 to challenge the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Following the appeals court reversal, Jones, who owned the since-razed Club Levels nightclub on Montana Avenue NE, is making a push to be released on bail pending the outcome of his case.

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In court papers, Jones said he has received two job offers — one from a Honda dealership in Maryland and the other as a counselor for the Peaceoholics Outreach Foundation. Jones said he is not a flight risk and would agree to wear a GPS tracking bracelet if released.

He also said he’s not violent and even has maintained cordial relationships with the people who testified against him at trial.

But federal prosecutors are fighting any attempts to have Jones let out of prison. They argue in court papers that he’s not eligible for release and that even without the GPS evidence at issue, authorities still have a case that Jones “was the ringleader of a large-scale drug distribution conspiracy.” Prosecutors also point out that Jones has two felony convictions.

Mr. Leckar argued that the government’s bid to keep Jones locked up is based on “outdated information and/or speculation.

“And realistically, where could Jones go without a passport or funds and with a GPS bracelet attached?” Mr. Leckar said in a pleading filed with the appeals court on Tuesday. “And why would it make any sense to abandon his fight now, after persisting so long and vigorously in his defense and seeing the government’s case winnowed down even further after this court’s reversing the trial judge?”

At trial, prosecutors argued that Jones and others ran a major drug operation and communicated about drugs through a coded language captured on a wiretap — with words such as “VIPs,” “tickets” and “half-tickets” — which referred to amounts of cocaine.

But Jones and his attorney balked at the characterization, arguing in court that the government’s case relied on informants motivated to testify against Jones as a way to get leniency at sentencing in their own cases.

Aside from shining a light on the use of GPS technology, Jones‘ case also focused attention on serious flaws in how the D.C. government administers liquor licenses. Despite two felony drug convictions, Jones was able to obtain a liquor license because the District only checks in the jurisdiction where an applicant lives and also in the District.

A Maryland resident, Jones had a felony drug case in Washington that was sealed when he applied for his liquor license, but a second case that was public record never surfaced because it was filed in Virginia. City officials have pledged to make tougher background checks.